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Maggie - Our Great Dane who lived to be 13 1/2 years old

Feeding Your IWS a Healthy Diet for Life

My foundation bitch, Scout, came from a line of raw fed dogs.  Her mother lived to be over 12 years old.  Scout's grandmother lived until she was almost 17 years old.  I made the switch to raw when I brought Drake home as a baby.  He was very sick on our drive home from picking him up (over a 5 hour drive) because he ate too much kibble the night before.  To get him on the track of health, I switched him to raw.

Honestly, I didn't think I would feed raw.  It scared me because I didn’t understand it.  However, once I read some information, I realized how much better it was for my dogs.  If you have any doubt about the positive impact of a raw diet, the picture above is our Great Dane who lived to be 13 1/2 years old.  She was switched to a raw diet when she was 4 years old.

The aim of natural raw diet is to maximize the health and longevity of dogs. You do this by feeding it a Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet.  It is a common sense diet.  It looks at the diet of a wild or feral animal and duplicates or mimics that type of feeding regime using available whole raw food. These diets may be enhanced with various supplements. Once the principles are understood, anybody can do this. 

Remember, the dog is an omnivore, a hunter and a scavenger.  Therefore, the diet can be and should be based on a wide range of whole raw foods of both animal and plant origin.   Dogs rely on bones as a major part of their diet for a variety of reasons including teeth cleaning and the myriad of benefits which flow from that together with the nutritional attributes of bones, their psychological benefits and so on.


The Raw Food Philosophy

The philosophy behind natural raw food is that the best way to feed a dog is by giving them a diet they have evolved to eat. This is the hypothesis accepted by most modern zoos or zoologist concerned with preserving a species of endangered animal. It is not the theory endorsed by pet food companies or the people they train - and that includes unfortunately - most vets.

A natural, raw food diet means that you do not feed your dog cooked and/or processed food. It is not based on feeding your dog a diet based on cooked grains, no matter how persuasive the advertising. Artificial grain based dog foods cause innumerable health problems. They are not what your dog was programmed to eat during its long process of evolution.

The food fed must contain the same balance and type of ingredients as consumed by those wild ancestors. This food will include such things as muscle meat, bone, fat, organ meat and vegetable materials and any other "foods" that will mimic what those wild ancestors ate.

One controversial aspect of a raw diet is the use of whole, raw, meaty bones as food for our dogs. Many people are afraid of bacterial problems but many people have fed their dogs with these bones for decades. For most dogs, whole raw meaty bones do not constitute a danger as this is what their digestive tract was designed to handle. They simply promote positive good health being a biologically appropriate food for our dogs.  Do not feed cooked bones of any kind and always practice safe food handling.

If you want to learn about a Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet, then I strongly suggest you get hold of and read Dr. Ian Billinghurst's books – “Give Your Dog a Bone,” “Grow Your Pups With Bones,” and "The BARF Diet." These books contain the information you need to set your dog on the path to true health. There are also many other books and sources of information.  There are many websites and discussion lists on the Internet.  However, it is up to you to do your research.  Do not take just one person’s advice as gospel.


The Raw Food Diet

The amount of food to be fed totally depends on your pet. You should watch their weight, know what is their ideal weight is, and maintain the ideal weight. An easy way to tell if you are maintaining your dog's ideal weight is by feeling them.  You should be able to feel their ribs but not too easily.  You don't have to have the perfectly balanced diet everyday, just over time.  I find it easier to maintain the ideal weight for my dogs a raw diet.

INGREDIENTS: It is important to buy these ingredients from reputable clean safe companies.

Raw Meaty Bones: Chicken, Turkey, Duck scraps, such as wings, necks, backs, carcasses or frames. Other meaty bones can include pork necks and pigs feet and some beef.  Just be careful of some beef bones.  They are hard for the dog to chew up so you don’t want to have bones that are so small, the dog can swallow it whole.

Offal: Fresh and raw Liver, Kidney, Heart, etc.

Fresh Ground Meat

Vegetables (optional): Green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, and ripened fruits. You will need to use the juicer to process the plant materials. You may add the juice to their diet or drink it yourself.

AMOUNT: Raw Meaty Bones should be about 80-90% of the diet, and the rest should be vegetable mix. Pups should get more raw meaty bones.  For adults, if you are having a problem with weight (the dog is a little heavy), increase the amount of veggies.  If the dog is on the skinny side, increase the amount of raw, meaty bones.

The vegetable mix should be 10-30% vegetable pulp, and the rest should be minced meat. Veggies are optional and it depends on your dog's needs.  Some raw feeders limit or fed no vegetable mix at all.  I tend to give about 20% of the total diet as a vegetable mix as my dogs tend to be able to put on extra weight a little easily.  I also like giving the ground food (with vegetables mixed in) in the morning so I can add my supplements to this meal.  My dogs eat the supplements better when mixed like this.  The nice thing is now there are many commercially available ground food products that are great for an occasional meal.  You can use it to add supplements to if your dog doesn't eat them sprinkled over bones and it's also a great way to feed some variety. 

Several times a week, you should add low fat plain yogurt, raw eggs, flax seed oil (or salmon oil), cod liver oil, raw liver, garlic, kelp powder, Vitamin B, C and E.  Adding offal (heart, liver, etc.) is very important and the dogs love it.

You can modify the diet according to your pet's age, and health condition.  


Common Questions:

Q: I always thought raw meat had a danger of bacteria, don't they???

A: To a human, yes. To a healthy dog, no. A dog's stomach acid is exceptionally strong, and is designed to destroy these types of bacteria. In addition, the intestinal tract of a dog is short, and is designed to move food quickly and efficiently through and out.

Q: Do you only feed raw chicken, or all kinds of raw meat you guys feed your dogs (beef, pork, etc.)

A: I feed raw chicken with the bones (necks, wings, and backs), turkey with the bones, pork necks, raw beef, beef kidney, heart, and liver.  I also have a store close to me that sells pre-made raw food so I’m able to get other meats such as rabbit, lamb, and venison to add some variety.

Q: Is it only bones, or do you feed actual raw meat?  

A: Both.  The ideal meat to bone ratio is a chicken wing.  You can feed chicken legs and thighs but they have a higher meat to bone ratio so this should not make up the majority of the diet.

Q: What are the benefits and/or disadvantages of feeding raw meat?

BENEFITS:  A natural raw diet has been shown in many cases to eliminate many dog food-related problems such as:

  • Problems with anal glands

  • Skin problems

  • Allergy problems

  • Weight problems

  • You are not feeding your dog the artificial preservatives and colors contained in many dog foods.

  • The raw diet does not expand in the gut as dry kibble can.

  • Palatability is excellent.

  • There are no rancid or questionable fats.

  • Dogs that "wolf" their food may slow down.

  • Picky eaters may speed up or be less picky.

  • Condition of dogs on a proper BARF (Bones and Raw Food) diet is amazing. Muscle mass, coat condition, energy levels, are all greatly improved on a raw diet.

  • Dogs on a BARF diet do not require veterinary dental care. The chicken bones and the larger knuckle bones clean the teeth and stimulate the gums naturally.

  • Today, many more people are feeding raw diets so the availability of pre-made meat and veggie mixes is more common.  These pre-made options plus the standard meat and bone meals make this a very easy feeding program.


  • Switching to a raw diet may need to be done gradually for some dogs to avoid problems with toxin release. As a dog is switched from a kibble dog food diet to a natural diet, the body releases stored toxins that have built up over a long period of time. The switch must be done very gradually so that the excretory systems can cope with this release.  When I switched my Great Dane, I stopped feeding her kibble one evening and started her on chicken wings the next evening.  I kept her on chicken wings for a couple of weeks before I introduced other foods such as turkey necks, organ meats, beef, lamb, pork necks, veggies and supplements.  I gradually added each of these elements over several weeks.

  • Some people feel that a raw diet is less convenient. Meat must be found, purchased, and stored properly. It must be thawed completely before use. This requires more thought and time than opening a can or a bag.  However, I have found now that I am used to feeding this way, it is no more difficult than feeding a commercial diet.  I bought a freezer and I purchase most of the meaty bones from a meat wholesaler.  You can buy it in bulk at inexpensive prices.  I freeze the meaty bones in meal size portions and then only thaw what I need overnight.

  • If you include vegetables and fruits, they must be juiced or ground. This can take more time. Again, however, as this way of feeding becomes more popular, pre-made veggie patties and dried veggie mixes are now readily available for sale.  There is a store not too far from me that specializes in natural food for animals and I can buy frozen patties of beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, venison and buffalo with the veggies already mixed in.  This is not the main portion of my dogs' diet but it's great to add variety.

  • Traveling with this diet can be difficult, although it can be done. Instead of frozen meat, it can be purchased daily wherever you are.  However, now there are many prepared foods that can be used for traveling.

Commercial Raw Diets:

All these listed below are meat, veggie, fruit "balanced" diets and can be use by alone.  However, I use these only to supplement my dogs' diets and the commercially prepared foods can be expensive.  I primarily feed chicken wings, necks and backs, turkey necks, pork necks, and I also feed ground beef, organ meats, mackerel, and veggies.  I purchase prepared foods to give my dogs variety with meat that is harder to find in the store including lamb, venison and rabbit.




Real Raw Food



Nature’s Variety – Prairie



Oma’s Pride



The Honest Kitchen



Country Pet



The Ultimate Diet



Barf Diet




Grain Fruit Veggie Diets - You Add The Meat Component

These foods are a preparation of whole grains, fruits and veggies. You must supply the meat protein and follow their directions exactly or you can unbalance the diet.  But these are great options if you do not want to grind your own veggies.




Wendy Vollhard’s Diet



Timber Wolf Organics



Sojourner Farms



The Wholistic Pet www.thewholisticpet.com 888-452-7263

See the Links page for more information on raw dog food suppliers.

Feeding Your Adult

Once you have switched your dog to a raw diet, daily feeding is very easy.  I feed my dogs two times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.  I bought a big freezer to store just dog food. I purchase the meaty bones from a local wholesaler in bulk and then I package the food (chicken wings, necks, backs; turkey necks;  pork necks, etc.) in meal size portions.  Just before I go to bed, I pull out from the freezer the food I'm going to feed the next day and let it thaw overnight. I usually feed the ground food/veggie mix in the morning although many times I will mix a ground meat/veggie mix with bones. This ground food/veggie mix could be ground chicken, beef, lamb, venison or rabbit and the bone is ground in with veggies.  I will also include liver, heart, yogurt, eggs, or cottage cheese. I bought a big grinder that will handle grinding veggies, fruit and chicken legs/thighs.  However, you can also buy pre-made ground meat/veggie mixes.  I also use a product called Dr. Harvey's "Canine Health."  This is a veggie mix that you reconstitute with hot water.  I mix this with ground beef or canned mackerel.  This is another great option if you don't want to mess with a veggie mix.  With the meat/veggie meal, I add the supplements. I sometimes use Canine Complete which includes all necessary vitamins and minerals.  Other times I will do individual supplements of minerals, vitamin C, B and E.  In the evening, I give the bone meal such as chicken wings, backs, necks, turkey necks, or pork necks.  About once a week, I substitute one of the morning meals with a fish meal.  I just use canned mackerel and mix it in with some veggies.  My dogs love this meal.

For some people, this may seem like a lot of work. However, once you get used to it, it becomes a routine and it is no more difficult than feeding kibble from a bag. Most people use supplements with kibble so this is no harder. For me, the benefits far outweigh any possible extra time it may take me. My dogs are very healthy. There breath is better than dogs who are kibble fed. If you think I'm crazy, my agility instructor even commented on how sweet Scout's breath is. I don't have to have their teeth cleaned. Their waste is a lot less and a lot less smelly. I find it easier to keep my dogs at an ideal weight.  Their muscle tone, weight, and coat is superb.

Feeding Your Puppy

When you bring your puppy home, he/she will have been weaned onto a schedule of three meals a day consisting of a combination of raw meaty bone meals, offal and ground meaty bones with veggies.  Raw meaty bones form the biggest percentage of the diet.  This includes chicken wings, backs and necks, turkey wings, and pork necks.  The veggie meals are a combination of fresh vegetables ground to a pulp and mixed with ground meat and organ meats.  The nice thing about the raw diet now is there are many commercially available mixes so you no longer have to grind up your own veggies and meat.  Again, something like Dr. Harvey's "Canine Health" available from http://www.thewholisticpet.com/ is a great to add to ground meat instead of veggies.  In addition, dogs should have eggs, organ meats, whole milk yogurt and supplements.  Organ meats are very important to include in the diet.  The main supplements are organic cold-pressed flax see oil (or salmon oil), alfalfa, kelp, Vitamin C and vitamin E. 

Watch your puppy's weight.  A growing puppy should be on the lean side.  Too much weight will cause joint problems.  The best way to tell if you are feeding enough is to feel your puppy's ribs.  You should be able to easily feel their ribs with no layer of fat.  Do not let your puppy's behavior dictate how much you feed.  If your puppy is anything like Scout, they will act like they are never fed enough and are starved.  However, that is just because they love their diet and are happy to eat it.  If you go on their behavior, you will have a fat puppy.

If the natural diet is so great, why do you supplement?  It's true that our dogs developed to eat a raw diet which mimics what an undomesticated dog would thrive on: eating a small prey animal, including its bones and the partially pre-digested herbs, vegetable matter, and grains in its stomach.  However, with factory-farming of grain-fed animals, the meats we feed do not include all of the nutrients of wild prey.  In addition, dogs did not develop to live with the stress of modern suburban life, exposure to combination vaccinations, pesticides, herbicides, and other challenges to the immune system.  Providing the dog with supplements will help it to achieve optimum health. 

Kibble Option

When I started to feed a raw diet, there were very few high quality kibble foods available.  Most dry foods available were made of poor quality meats and were high in wheat content.  Wheat and most grains are not natural for dogs, are not processed well, and can make IWS very itchy.  However, with the high demand of pet owners wanting better quality foods and many switching to raw diets, dog food makers began to pay attention and have worked to develop better quality kibble.  I realize not everyone can become comfortable feeding raw so the foods listed below are good options. 

Dry Dog Food Options

Orijen grain free

Wellness Core grain free

Taste of the Wild grain free

Merrick Before Grain
Eagle Pack Holistic Select
Life's Abundance
PHD - Perfect Healthy Diet
Nature's Variety Raw Instincts
California Natural
Natural Balance

I do not recommend dog foods such as Hill's Science Diet, Iams, Pro Plan, Eukanuba, Pedigree, and Purina.  While they are well advertised brands, they are not high quality.


All Pictures are property of Stephanie O'Reilly

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